Department of the Interior

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Office of the Secretary
Contact: Frank Quimby, 202-208-7291
For Immediate Release September 21, 2004
Carrie Moore, 202-208-3460

Interior Officials Celebrate Opening of National Museum of the American Indian

Department to Honor Contemporary Indian Artists

WASHINGTON - Calling it a cultural milestone in American history, the Interior Department's top officials for Indian Affairs today celebrated the opening of the National Museum of the American Indian as a tribute to the greatness of the First Americans and a time to rededicate the nation's commitment to improving the lives of Indian people.

"This is truly a historic day for American Indians, Alaska Natives and the nation," Interior Secretary Gale Norton said at the dedication of the new $219 million museum on the National Mall. "By recognizing the artistic accomplishments and cultural achievements of Indian people, we are honoring not only the rich heritage of the First Americans but also their valuable contributions to the nation and the world. For the Department of the Interior, this joyous event also is a time to rededicate ourselves to improving the lives of American Indians and Alaska Natives."

"The graceful lines, beautiful symmetry and natural spaces within this structure reflect the values and traditions of Indian people throughout the hemisphere," said Dave Anderson, Interior's assistant secretary for Indian Affairs. "The historic treasures the museum preserves and interprets are a tribute to the creativity and artistry of the Indian people of the Americas. The museum and its priceless objects will help all Americans to better understand and appreciate the greatness of Indian people."

"As the museum helps us reflect on the heritage and history of Indian people, this also is an appropriate time to look to the future," noted Ross Swimmer, Interior's special trustee for American Indians. "We must do all we can to ensure that the lives of American Indians continue to be enriched by the services and opportunities provided by the Interior Department."

The Department of the Interior provides a number of services to educate Indian children, protect tribal natural resources and stimulate tribal self-government and economic development. The Bureau of Indian Affairs provides these services to 1.5 million American Indians and Alaska Natives who are members of 562 federally recognized tribes. Ninety percent of BIA's annual appropriation of about $1.9 billion is spent at the local level on tribal services. Since fiscal year 2001, more than a billion dollars has been spent for Indian school construction and renovation projects. In fiscal year 2004, funding for Indian education programs reached $526 million, an increase of $34 million from FY 2001.

The Interior department is marking the museum dedication with weeklong activities that celebrate contemporary Indian artists and leaders for their roles in promoting American Indian and Alaska Native arts.

On Thursday, Sept. 23, at a special ceremony at Interior headquarters in Washington, Secretary Norton will honor Sen. Ben Nighthorse Campbell of Colorado; W. Richard West, founding director of the National Museum of the American Indian; Jesse Monongya, an artist and commissioner of the Indian Arts and Crafts Board; Cruz McDaniels II, an artist and teacher; and Myron Wahnee Jr., a student artist.

"Four of the five honorees have not only distinguished themselves in their careers, but also accepted a larger role," Norton noted. "They have chosen to work with younger generations, with nonprofit organizations and with government to assure that Indian arts and artists take their rightful place among the cultural assets of the world. One of the honorees, Myron Wahnee Jr., a senior at Riverside Indian School in Anadarko, Okla., was selected as representative of the emerging generation of Indian artists."

Throughout the week, the Main Interior Building (1849 C Street N.W.) will host Indian arts and crafts exhibits for contemporary Indian artists. Interior's historic Indian Craft Shop will host an open house on Sept. 23 and Sept. 24 with more than 20 Indian artists whose works will be highlighted from Sept. 20 to 28.

Selections from the Bureau of Indian Affairs artwork and artifact collection will be on display in the C Street lobby of the building and in the cafeteria. The bureau houses more than 2,000 items, many of which are on permanent display in the offices of the Secretary of the Interior and Assistant Secretary for Indian Affairs.

The Interior Museum's exhibit Continuation of the Arts through the Generations features historic and contemporary objects from four cultural areas of American Indian nations (Plains, Southwest, Northwest Coast and California). From Sept. 20 to Sept. 24, the museum offers daily tours spotlighting American Indian 1930s-era murals at Interior. The tours are from 10 to 11 a.m. and 1 to 2 p.m. Call 202-208-4659 for reservations.

The Indian Arts and Crafts Board, an Interior agency that promotes American Indian and Alaska Native economic development through the promotion and protection of the Indian arts and crafts industry, has transferred more than 6,000 arts and crafts items to the National Museum of the American Indian.





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